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Covering Brockville, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook

The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico
This article is the second in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. These days the conversation about the United States–Mexico border is dominated by the implications of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But back in the mid-1960s, there were concerted binational efforts to build a monorail to further connect the commercial districts of two cities conceived as part of one binational community. A 1965 document outlining the proposal for a Juárez-El Paso Monorail System invoked the common origins of both cities. The river was referred to as an obstacle to be overcome: “No other metropolitan community of equal size has been so restricted and contained by so relatively a small item as a channelized river.” Recently, the idea for a monorail has surfaced again, but this time riding on top of a 2,000-mile border wall promoted by an American president to further separate the U.S. and Mexico. The 1960s were a period when ideas for urban planning boomed in the Juárez/El Paso border area. This was the context of the 1965 proposal for a transportation project designed to move passengers back and forth across the border. Although the idea did not come to fruition, it gives a glimpse of how certain sectors viewed the future of Juárez/El Paso as an integrated border metroplex. A prototype of the monorail can be seen in the 1967 film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451 by Francois Truffaut. It was built on the outskirts of Paris as a demonstration facility by SAFEGE, the company chosen to install the El Paso/Juárez monorail. Guy Montag, the main character, enjoys a smooth ride between the city and the suburban neighborhood where he lives. The suspended train featured in the movie is the same as that in the photomontages published in the booklet that circulated in the Juárez/El Paso area two years earlier. It was estimated that the nonstop ride between stations would transport commuters between the San Jacinto Plaza and the Juárez bullring in less than three minutes. Both cultural and aesthetic considerations were made, along with technical, commercial, and other economic aspects of the interaction between the two cities. The project was proposed not just to satisfy a growing demand for a rapid transit system that would minimize crossing time, but also as a potential tourist attraction. It anticipated that visitors from all over the world would visit “to witness the most advanced form of mass transit functioning commercially in a modern community.” It would have been an invitation to take a glimpse into a science fiction future, one where limitations imposed by geopolitical borders were meant to be overcome. The design considered how to implement inspection of passengers by Mexican and American immigration and customs officials, and proposed that this process would take place upon arrival at either station rather than at traditional border checkpoints. The document stressed that authorities considered this viable. But did this pitch really correspond with the sociopolitical context of the epoch? Or was this early globalization, pro-trade discourse merely boosting rhetoric aimed at gaining sympathizers for a binational entrepreneurial group trying to get a piece of the border transportation business? At first glance, the mid-1960s were a promising time for a project that gave the impression that Juárez/El Paso were twin cities living in harmony. But in fact, these notions were contrary to national border control policies that produced the infamous Operation Wetback, which resulted in numerous human rights violations and the deportation of over a million people. More recently, Donald Trump has been reviewing prototypes for a different kind of border project: the construction of an “unscalable” and “unpenetrable” wall. His idea has prompted architects and builders from both countries to make proposals. Earlier this year The New York Times ran an article posing the question, “Is Donald Trump, wall-builder-in-chief, a conceptual artist?” It was a report about Christoph Büchel, himself a conceptual artist who circulated a provocative petition seeking to save the prototypes—built with $3.3 million in federal funds—from demolition by invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906. According to Büchel, the set of textured slabs, which can be seen from across the border, was “a major land art exhibition of significant cultural value.” Not surprisingly, the petition created an uproar in the art world. Although some proposals were made in jest and did not reach the prototype stage, there have been numerous bids that attempt to subvert Trump’s purpose to isolate and supposedly protect the United States from the perils of contact with its southern neighbors. The New York Times reviewed a dystopian parody consisting of a 2,000-mile pink wall, housing seemingly disparate facilities like a detention center and a mall. This was a collaborative effort by Estudio 3.14, a design group in Guadalajara, Mexico, and the Mamertine Group, a design lab at the University of Connecticut. The designers used minimalist concepts and colors reminiscent of the style of influential Mexican architect Luis Barragán: “It is a prison where 11 million undocumented people will be processed, classified, indoctrinated, and/or deported.” The project also contemplates the wall housing a mall with a Macy’s in the Tijuana section. The San Diego Union-Tribune accounted for an apparently serious plan presented by a Southern California firm named National Consulting Service that envisioned a wall topped by a monorail serving both countries. The train would run along the border and would feature “voice analysis technology to detect different emotional states of riders to possibly assist law enforcement.” According to the firm, the system was designed to keep Americans safe, but also to improve and revitalize sister cities along the border. The future is still in the past.
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All aboard

LaGuardia AirTrain proposal rolls along after Cuomo signs state legislation
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s LaGuardia Airport AirTrain project is one step closer to reality after he signed state legislation authorizing the project on Monday. The AirTrain will provide a corridor between the airport and the Mets-Willets Point station in Flushing, Queens, which serves the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) and the 7 train. State legislation, which was passed earlier this month, allows the New York State Department of Transportation to acquire city or MTA-owned land in order to build this project. Cuomo, who first proposed the project three years ago, promises that the new train will connect passengers from Manhattan to LaGuardia in under 30 minutes. Engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff was selected in 2017 to oversee and analyze preliminary engineering and design process for up to two new AirTrain stations. Estimated costs for this project have risen to $1.5 billion from the original $450 million projected cost in 2015, according to The New York Times. But Cuomo’s proposal has been met with criticism, mainly for the circuitous route that the AirTrain would take. It would take passengers past LaGuardia in order to reach Mets-Willets, and only then would they transfer to the AirTrain and reverse course back to the airport. Critics have also been skeptical of Cuomo’s promise of an under-30-minute commute. It takes 16 minutes of train time by LIRR from Manhattan to Willets Point, but Cuomo did not take into account the time it would take waiting for trains or for passengers to get to and from the LIRR, which operates out of Pennsylvania Station. Currently, the LIRR also only operates to Mets-Willets Point during the Mets season and during off-peak hours, only runs once every 30 minutes. The actual AirTrain time is estimated to take six minutes with trains running every four minutes. Altogether, total commute time may end up being much more than the 30 minutes and may even take longer than using existing infrastructure like the express buses, according to Yonah Freemark of MIT. The AirTrain project is a part of Cuomo’s $8 billion push to update the deteriorating airport. A new Terminal B is scheduled to be completed in 2020 and the new Delta Terminal C in 2021. Although the AirTrain project is not finalized, the next step will be an environmental review that will begin later this year.
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Goin' up!

AN tracks the largest projects in Saudi Arabia
This story originally appeared in our June 2018 issue. Read the first part of our Saudi Arabia feature here. With so many large-scale projects going up and wholly new urban areas in development, it can be hard to keep track of the myriad established architecture offices working across Saudi Arabia. Here is a quick guide to some of the biggest, tallest, and most cutting-edge projects in the works across the country. King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture Snøhetta Opening 2018 Snøhetta’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture is the by-product of a design competition led by the Saudi Aramco Oil Company, which wanted a new knowledge incubator for Saudi Arabia to symbolize the nation’s aspirations for a diversified economy. The one-million-square-foot complex will feature a 930-seat Grand Hall as well as a cinema, library, exhibition hall, museum, and archive, among other offerings. The desert-bound structure is designed to resemble a series of stacked pebbles clad in parallel bands of metal piping. Inside, these give way to graphic, linear patterns that reveal a delicate metal structure underneath. Meanwhile, the Grand Hall's ceiling is wrapped in perforated copper panels. Jeddah Tower (formerly Kingdom Tower)| Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture; Calthorpe Associates Opening 2020 When completed, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill’s 3,280-foot Jeddah Tower will stand as the tallest building on Earth. The organically shaped pinnacle will be the focal point of the Kingdom City development (population: 210,000), a forthcoming $20 billion economic area master planned by Berkeley, California–based Calthorpe Associates for Saudi Arabia’s west coast. The tapered skyscraper is structured to mimic desert vegetation and is built with petal-shaped apartment blocks at its base. It will also contain a hotel, commercial spaces, and a variety of observation platforms above. King Abdullah University of Science & Technology BuroHappold; HOK Completed 2009 In 2009, St. Louis, Missouri–based HOK designed and built an 8,900-acre campus for the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, in just over 30 months. The 940-student university contains some of the most advanced scientific lab equipment in the world and features 5.5 million square feet spread across 27 buildings, including two million square feet of laboratories. The labs are arrayed across four 500,000-square-foot structures designed to be “flexible building shells” with universal floor plates that can accommodate different lab setups. The structures are wrapped in horizontal metal louvers to control for glare while the campus library is faced with translucent stone cladding that casts light from within at night. Haramain High-Speed Railway Stations Foster + Partners; BuroHappold Opening 2018 Foster + Partners and BuroHappold are working on a series of transformative high-speed rail (HSR) stations across the country as the Saudi government pushes to boost regional connectivity with a new 280-mile-long HSR line with stops in Medina, Mecca, Jeddah, and the King Abdullah Financial District. Designs for the stations are meant to seed new urban areas in each locale by fusing cavernous, 85-foot-tall arched interior spaces with strategically-placed solid facades to limit solar gain, overhead bridges to create covered outdoor spaces around the stations, and direct connections to the country’s most bustling cities. The line is expected to open sometime this year and will carry 135 million passengers per year by 2042. King Abdullah Financial District Henning Larsen; SOM Opening 2020 Danish architecture firm Henning Larsen has master planned a new business district on the northern edge of Riyadh, where 59 high-rise towers are now in the works. The firm took inspiration from the city’s historic center when calibrating the positioning of each of those towers, generating a taut, tall cluster of angled and closely set monoliths. The arrangement is designed to minimize solar penetration into the city, resulting in ambient temperatures—the designers hope—up to ten degrees cooler than surrounding areas. The massive, nearly complete development area has been in the works for years and features contributions from SOM, CallisonRTKL, Gensler, Foster + Partners, and many others. King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center Zaha Hadid Architects Opening 2018 Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) recently completed the 750,000-square-foot KAPSARC (King Abdullah Petroleum Studies & Research Center) complex, a nonprofit research institution focused on “policies that contribute to the most effective use of energy to provide social well-being across the globe.” The honeycomb-shaped complex is designed to optimize solar and wind orientation and is made up of five buildings clustered around a series of interlocking courtyards topped by metal canopies. The complex, which opened earlier this year, was one of the final projects Hadid oversaw. Among other features, it includes a 300-seat auditorium, a library with 100,000 volumes in its archive, and an inspirational prayer area called a Musalla.
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Underground Upgrade

MTA releases 10-year plan to improve subway and bus services
Within ten years, a modernized signal system on 6 subway lines and more than 180 new subway stations are among many new improvements to New York City’s public transportation promised by the MTA. In a package released by New York City Transit Chief Andy Byford and the MTA, called “Fast Forward: The Plan to Modernize New York City Transit,” (PDF) the transit provider also guarantees repair work at more than 300 stations, new subway cars and CBTC-modified car, a redesign of bus routes and a new tap-and-go fair payment system to be in place in the next decade. The improvements come with a cost. According to The New York Times, the groundbreaking proposal will cost more than $19 billion for the first five years. The plan will also entail closures, including continuous night and weekend closures for up to 2.5 years per line. Byford’s plan is thought to be ambitious, as work previously estimated to take 40 years would be completed within the next ten years. The two-stage proposal will benefit a cumulative eight million daily riders. The outdated transportation infrastructure has caused delays and frustration. The “state-of-the-art” communications-based train control (CBTC) is believed to deliver greater reliability and better prospects for future capacity growth. In the first five years, lines 4, 5, 6, 7, A, C, E, F, M, R, G will be upgraded with the advanced train control signal system; in the next five years, lines 1, 2, 3, B, D, S, N, Q, R, W too will be upgraded. The bus network will be reimagined across the five boroughs, promising customer focused routes, faster and more reliable travel times, and more comfortable and environmentally sustainable buses. However, the plan has an issue with funding. Amidst the quarrel between Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio on who should pay to rehabilitate the subway, a spokesperson for de Blasio told The New York Times that the city is not willing to help pay for Byford's plan. He advised that the MTA should instead resort to existing resources and the state should endorse new revenue sources such as the millionaire's tax that de Blasio has proposed.
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Podspreading

New York's latest napping destination Nap York expands to meet demand
Nap York, a nap and meditation center that recently launched in New York City, has just completed an expansion of its rent-by-the-hour sleeping pods and a renovation of its yoga and lounge facilities. Part of the growing trend of meditation studios and wellness centers cropping up around New York City, the Midtown napping location opened in late February 2018, promising New Yorkers and tourists alike a secluded respite from the surrounding neighborhood. In the renovation, and probably due to popular demand, Nap York expanded the number of pods available from 7 to 29. Due to budget constraints, the design and renovation was conducted in house. The “Pods” are split into three categories: Stacked Pod, Standalone Pod, and VIP Pod. As the names suggest, the nap cubicles range in size and arrangement, with the stacked pods being similar to Japanese kapuseru hoteru, or capsule hotels. Each pod is built out of locally sourced reclaimed wood, both plain and painted charcoal black, faintly illuminated by dotted LED lights fashioned to resemble a miniature constellation. Ringing each row of pods is a course of hanging vegetation, a component of the more than 250 plants found throughout the location. The renovation includes the installation of cocoon-like “egg chairs” and workstations in the Yoga Studio & Lounge. Located on 36th Street & 7th Avenue, one of Manhattan’s busier corners, Nap York has successfully cut off the Midtown racket through the complete soundproofing of the building. Currently, Nap York is hoping to add a greenhouse and hydroponic farm to its rooftop lounge, which currently consists of hammocks and communal tables built of reclaimed wood.
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Trace Solids

Experiments with fabric form concrete on view at NYIT
Romantic notions would have us imagine finished sculptural forms as trapped within raw, unhammered rock until the artist who divines their truth liberates them. Isamu Noguchi had a more nuanced understanding of how sculpture might emerge from stone. He saw the final work as the result of a dialogue between subject and object, with the outcome contingent on their chance meeting. Happenstance, as stone was sometimes to Noguchi, was the medium of his friend and occasional collaborator John Cage. Known for setting up frameworks to embrace unintended occurrences, Cage’s work put forward incidental manifestations within parameters he set up as the finished outcome. Naomi Frangos, professor and curator of Inhabiting Surface, an exhibit at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), had the student authors of the exhibited works study Noguchi’s sculptures as part of a collaborative project with professor Rennie Tang. As a visitor to the exhibition, familiar traces of Noguchi’s dialogue was apparent in their work. While spending time with artifacts of the process by which they were made, Cage’s chance became palpable. Yet what made the long trip to this remote show in Long Island worthwhile were the ways that these architectural experiments went beyond the work of canonic thinkers to stir the more nebulous topic of specific human bodies that architecture usually neglects. Casting any material is usually done using rigid formwork that sets up stable negative spaces that will produce the same outcome over and over again. Frangos, however, directed students to sew flexible, woven, plastic fabric into sacks of their own design to restrain the concrete while it was still in fluid form. Scaffolding made of the same rebar usually inside the formwork was installed around the flaccid sewn bags and served as restraints to influence the final form as the liquid concrete engorged them. Lime slumped over steel, concrete hardened against plastic to make it appear forever wet. Fabric removed, the shapes that emerged evoked Noguchi chats, yet this time he might have been speaking with a younger stone still plump with baby fat. With Frangos’ technique in the students’ hands, a direction for spatial production opened up to the same uncanny collapse of the distinction between building and body sought by Aziz + Cucher's mole-ridden interiors, festooned with follicles, or more directly akin to Andrew Kudless’ P-Wall. Displayed alongside the sculptural objects were the flayed formwork skins themselves. Like the Shroud of Turin, efflorescent traces of the casting’s seepage furthered a sense of how imperfect human bodies might find their way into how architecture is made. Inhabiting Surface’s greatest promise was the hint toward an architectural future that might become through the process of play, discovery, and openness to the unintended that Frangos and Tang encouraged. As these young practitioners set the agenda for the way buildings are to be made, their next experiments will move up in scale from the sculptural to the inhabitable. In a couple of decades, it is my hope to walk in to a building designed by one of these young people that makes me feel at home in the same time-based body that will certainly have sagged by then as well. Inhabiting Surface, Studies in Variable Formwork Design New York Institute of Technology, Center Gallery, Education Hall, Old Westbury Northern Boulevard, New York February 26–April 2, 2018
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Ultimate Capsule Hotel

First-ever luxury space hotel shoots for the stars
Forget all about skyscrapers hung from orbiting asteroids, the next big trend in astronomic real estate may be in space stations. Developer Orion Span has revealed Aurora Station, a luxury space hotel that will house guests 200 miles above the Earth’s surface come 2022. First announced at the Space 2.0 Summit in San Jose, California, on April 5, Aurora Station is laying claim to the world’s first fully-modular space station. While Aurora’s first capsule will only be 43.5 feet long and 14 feet across, renderings show the station branching out as extensions are added. “We developed Aurora Station to provide a turnkey destination in space. Upon launch, Aurora Station goes into service immediately, bringing travelers into space quicker and at a lower price point than ever seen before, while still providing an unforgettable experience,” said chief executive officer and founder of Orion Span, Frank Bunger, in a press release. “Orion Span has additionally taken what was historically a 24-month training regimen to prepare travelers to visit a space station and streamlined it to three months, at a fraction of the cost. Our goal is to make space accessible to all, by continuing to drive greater value at lower cost.” The aforementioned three-month training certification, the Orion Span Astronaut Certification (OSAC), is completed in three parts; the first online, the second at Orion Span’s state-of-the-art training facility in Houston, Texas, and the third on Aurora Station itself. While rocket launches have become exponentially cheaper in recent years thanks to private competition, guests will still pay a premium for their zero-gravity stay aboard Aurora Station. A 12-day trip will cost $9.5 million per person, or nearly $800,000 per day, with a refundable $80,000 deposit. According to Orion Span, the first four months of reservations have already sold out in the three days since the station was revealed. The initial Aurora Station capsule would fit six astronauts in a 35-foot-by-14-foot living space, two of whom would be trained crew. Once onboard, guests could watch the sun rise and set as the station rotated around the Earth every 90 minutes, grow food, and use a VR setup that Orion Span has dubbed a “holodeck”. While space tourism is nothing new (Russia is aiming to attach a luxury hotel to the International Space Station by 2022), it remains to be seen how much of Orion Span’s plan will be realized. As Bloomberg notes, the company hasn’t released its funding goals or contracted a launch provider yet, and the four-year window is an ambitious one for building a space station. Still, if Aurora gets into Low Earth Orbit in 2021 and begins accepting guests in 2022, Orion Span plans to branch out into space condos and may sell attachable capsules for those looking to claim a slice of space life.
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Robots anyone?

Winners of MTA's first genius award announced
The winners of the MTA’s Transit Genius Challenge, which was first announced last spring, have been selected. The award, which set aside $3 million to be split among winners in three categories, is part of the city’s plan to modernize the aging subway system, which has been experiencing ever increasing delays and other issues affecting its nearly 6 million daily users. The MTA has been in an official state of emergency since the summer of 2017. Of the 19 finalists, of which 17 are major corporations and current MTA contractors, eight have been selected as winners to split the three $1 million prizes. In the category of signalling, Robert James and Metrom Rail have both won for a proposal to use ultra-wideband technology, a wireless technology that eliminates the need for more costly, cumbersome equipment and that the MTA has the ability to implement immediately. Using ultra-wide band technology would cut decades off the 40-year plan to overhaul the subway’s signaling system. Also in signalling, Ansaldo STS and the Thales Group have won the contest with plans for using sensors and cameras to track train positions and allow them to travel closer together more effectively. In the second challenge category, subway cars, three winners have been chosen for three different approaches to the problem. Lawyer and transit aficionado Craig Avedisian took home $330,000 for a plan that combines longer, higher capacity trains with new loading procedures to significantly increase train capacity with only minor changes to underlying technical infrastructure. CRRC has proposed a $50 million initial investment to develop an entirely new train car with materials such as carbon fiber, and proposes shorter lifecycles on subway cars to be able to continually phase in the newest technologies. Finally, CSiT wants to harness the power of big data to quickly identify maintenance issues and create a more reliable rider experience. In the final category, communications, Bechtel Innovation has won for a plan to implement a semi-automatic robotic system to install communications and control systems. The Big B, as the robotic solution is called, could even nimbly climb off railways, into stations, onto platforms, and into service bays. Transit Wireless and Alcatel-Lucent (Nokia) received honorable mentions in the category. Although it is not immediately clear how and if the winning changes might be phased into subway operations, the MTA was inspired by the success of the Transit Genius Challenge and intends to create a recurring challenge, the “Transit Innovation Partnership.”
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Boring Tunnels

Elon Musk receives exploratory permit for D.C. to NYC Hyperloop
Seven months after Elon Musk claimed that he had “verbal governmental approval” from the Trump administration to build an underground Hyperloop from Washington D.C. to New York City, it looks like his plans might actually come to fruition. Musk’s The Boring Company has received a permit to begin exploratory digging in Washington, D.C., for what could one day be a stop along a D.C.-Baltimore-Philadelphia-New York route. Musk has made some ambitious claims about the Hyperloop, a high-speed rail system that would reach nearly 800 miles an hour and cut the 229-mile trip between D.C. and NYC to only 29 minutes. For contrast, the fastest train in the U.S. is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which tops out at 150 miles an hour and makes the same trip in three hours. Unlike Amtrak’s light rail network, the Hyperloop system would be more akin to a supersonic subway, moving small pods of up to 16 people, or vehicles, on electrically-powered sleds between widely dispersed stations scattered through each city instead of one centralized train hub in each. Now, The Boring Company will begin excavating a vacant parking lot at 53 New York Avenue NE, near the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives headquarters, after being granted a somewhat vague permit by the D.C. government. The initial exploration is just one piece of navigating a logistical boondoggle, as The Boring Company would need to tunnel under buildings, infrastructure, utilities, roads and just about everything else if an interstate Hyperloop network were to come to fruition. The city’s Department of Transportation has reportedly been trying to determine what other permits Musk’s company would need. Still, every piece of regulatory go-ahead has helped the Hyperloop inch closer to reality. In October 2017, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan gave Musk permission to begin excavation of a 10-mile stretch of Hyperloop track for the future New York-to-D.C. line, although city leaders along the way expressed their surprise at the decision. The federal government would also need to grant the Boring Company the appropriate permits to dig under federally owned land, of which the proposed route crosses several stretches. While testing of the Boring Company’s drilling technology and ability to tunnel under urban areas is still ongoing in Hawthorne, Los Angeles, at least the company will be able to fund its endeavors; at the time of writing, Musk had sold out of promotional Boring Company flamethrowers.
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Moving Forward

CTA announces route of proposed Red Line expansion
On January 26, the Chicago Transit Authority announced its ideal path for the proposed expansion of the city’s Red Line south branch. The expansion, the system's first since 1993, is a major aspect of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s “Red Ahead” initiative to modernize and lengthen Chicago’s busiest train line. Over 240,000 Chicagoans ride the city’s Red Line on an average weekday, representing over 40 percent of "L" ridership. The “Red Ahead” initiative has already delivered tangible improvements to the second largest transport system in the country. Currently, a transit terminal designed by Chicago-based Exp. is rising on 95th Street, the current southern terminus of the Red Line. The $280 million project entails the renovation of the existing North Terminal and the construction of an entirely new South Terminal, with the intended goal of increasing passenger capacity for existing and future commuter demand. The renovated and expanded station will also include two new public artworks by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates, and is expected to open in 2018. The Chicago Tribune reports that the proposed route runs from 95th Street, along the preexisting Union Pacific freight tracks, to 130th Street. This route will expand the Red Line by 5.3 miles, add four new stations, and is estimated to cost $2.3 billion. State and local funding for the project is not yet fully realized, and considering the budget priorities laid out by the Trump administration’s recently-leaked infrastructure plan, crucial federal funding remains precarious at best. The earliest the project will break ground is 2020, with an approximate four-year construction timeline. The new stations, located on 103rd Street, 111th Street, Michigan Avenue, and 130th Street, will feature bus and parking facilities as a measure to decrease vehicular congestion within the greater Chicago area. As noted by NBC Chicago, the 5.3-mile extension primarily serves Chicago’s Far South Side, an area currently designated as a “transit desert” due to its lack of public transport. Expanding transportation opportunities in Chicago’s South Side could dramatically impact the area’s residents. According to CBS Chicago, the extension of the Red Line could shave 20 minutes off the commute from the Far South Side to Downtown Chicago, boosting the accessibility of affordable housing in the area. Although transportation projects tend to draw the ire of community groups, interviews conducted by the Chicago Tribune with residents and businesses across the proposed Red Line expansion reveal widespread support for the transit initiative. According to Progressive Railroading, a final environmental impact study for the project will be released following a February 13 open house with the surrounding community. Following the study, the CTA can apply for over $1 billion in federal funding. If funding is secured for the extension of the Red Line, the CTA will still have to contend with the approximately 150 private parcels along the proposed route. The financial and logistical hurdles are great, but the large-scale expansion of Chicago’s “L” could prove a boon to residents and city alike.
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Bean Downtown

How will Boston handle its largest wave of development to date?
In Boston, a booming job market is drawing people back from far-flung suburbs and remaking the region, but it is also exacerbating a housing-affordability crisis and forcing difficult conversations about the future of the city. Greater Boston is riding a wave of development that is perhaps the largest the region has ever seen. By 2030, the city of Boston projects its population will top 700,000, a number it has not seen in 60 years. “The vast majority of our growth is happening in the inner core of the Boston region, so within the city of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, Everett, Quincy, and in some of the other municipalities within the Route 128 corridor,” said Eric Bourassa, director of the transportation division at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). “This is a trend we’ve been seeing over the past decade, and we’re just predicting more of this growth.” The MAPC is in the process of updating the 30-year plan it released in 2008, highlighting housing, sustainability, and transportation. Another regional planning group, the Boston Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, is updating its periodic long-range regional transportation plan. But change is happening quicker than the region’s existing plans can reflect. Data from the MAPC shows the region added more than 225,000 jobs between 2009 and 2015, and nearly two-thirds of them were in those inner-core cities. In July, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Boston’s non-farm employment rose 2.1 percent compared to the previous year, outpacing the national rate of 1.5 percent. The engines of that growth are Greater Boston’s dozens of colleges and universities, and the biotech industry that grew out of them in the 1970s. Biotech turned Cambridge’s Kendall Square from an undeveloped urban frontier into a regional hub home to the highest concentration of biotech companies in the world, but many migrated to the area around Route 128 during the 1980s and ’90s to build suburban campuses. Today some of the same genetic engineering startups that began that transformation, like Biogen, are reinvesting in Boston and Cambridge. That trend is likely to continue. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker recently announced his plans to put another $500 million into the life-sciences industry over the next five years. In addition to Kendall Square, the South Boston Waterfront—better known as the Seaport—has gathered a growing share of those new jobs in a growing portfolio of pricey office developments and luxury condos. Many suburbs are also becoming more dense. Needham, Natick, and Framingham are among the further-out cities developing around commuter rail stations in their downtowns. Two areas of Somerville are undergoing massive redevelopments tied to public transit, as well: Assembly Square, which recently landed the new offices of the state’s largest private employer, Partners Healthcare; and Union Square, which is preparing for major changes ahead of getting the first new MBTA train stop in decades. Matthew Littell is principal of the Boston design firm Utile, which is working on the Cambridge Master Plan, and was a lead consultant on Imagine Boston 2030, Boston’s first citywide plan in 50 years. His firm analyzed demographic patterns in the region and found that younger employees in industries like tech tended to cluster around the inner-core cities and neighborhoods where they worked, compared to Boston’s bankers and lawyers, who still generally preferred houses in the suburbs. Littell pointed to Autodesk’s decision to supplement its office space in the suburban Route 128 corridor with a new space in the Seaport. “That’s a classic example, and the only reason these companies are moving is to attract and retain talent,” he said. “The young, smart folks don’t want to be out in Framingham or Waltham. They want to be in downtown Boston or Kendall Square or somewhere like that.” MAPC socioeconomic analyst Sarah Philbrick agreed that young people are flocking to the inner-core cities in search of walkable neighborhoods and city life, and businesses are following them. “Businesses want to attract these workers and therefore decide to locate in highly desirable locations,” Philbrick said. “I don’t believe many businesses would pay the high rents of the core if this were not the case.” Real estate is booming along with the regional job market, but housing is coming up short, and local business leaders worry that could hobble their ability to attract top talent. Finding enough skilled employees is already an issue in a state with one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates—soaring housing costs could drive away would-be residents. “We just we don’t have enough housing to meet the demand,” said Bourassa, “and so we lose a lot of young professionals who can’t afford to live here.” The MAPC estimates only about two-thirds of the region’s housing needs are being met. Some worry that could lead to long-term stagnation or brain drain away from Greater Boston. “I have a real question about how sustainable this rental housing boom is actually going to be in the long term,” said David Hacin, principal of Hacin + Associates. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand here, but it’s hard to build in the Boston area. It’s a very expensive market from a construction cost point of view, and when you combine years-long review processes with limited site opportunities because it’s a mature market, you run into problems of affordability.” The City of Boston said it’s trying to address that problem. Mayor Marty Walsh has pledged 53,000 new housing units as part of a new housing plan—a sizable effort that may have contributed to median rent in the inner-core cities dropping for the first time since at least 2009. Still, Barry Bluestone, professor of political economy at Northeastern University and lead author of the Boston Foundation’s Housing Report Card, estimates the region needs around 160,000 new housing units by 2030. So far statistics show that efforts to ease the housing crunch are having mixed results. The pace of new housing construction in the same inner-core cities seeing the most population growth has slowed lately, according to the Foundation’s report card, published in November. In its report, the Boston Foundation found that the City of Boston has issued more than 41 percent of the new housing permits in the region this year, almost double its share five years ago. But fewer than one in five new units put on the market since 2011 were affordable, less than half the rate seen between 1996 and 2003. Meanwhile, the number of permits issued outside the city of Boston declined this year, while more than half of renters reported paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to the report. The region’s recent growth spurt may be making that problem more severe, but it should not come as a surprise, said Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. “Population growth is contributing to some of the congestion and growth pressure being experienced in Greater Boston,” said Goodman. “But our transportation and housing issues are primarily the result of inadequate infrastructure investment and counterproductive zoning regulations which limit new housing development.” With more people and corporations calling Boston home, housing advocates are calling on local governments to direct the benefits of a growing tax base into more affordable housing initiatives. “Even in Boston, there continues to be a challenge of creating a housing stock that benefits working households along with everyone else who strives to live in the city,” said Barry Bluestone, lead author of the Boston Foundation’s housing report, in a statement. He recommends the creation of “21st-century villages,” defined as multistory mixed-income buildings located near public transit. In an interview, Bluestone expanded on that idea. Many communities around Boston currently prohibit accessory dwelling units and, in some cases, ban multifamily housing outright, he said. “In the past, everyone has acknowledged there’s a housing problem, but they’ve mostly looked to their neighbors to solve it,” said Bluestone. Now that the whole region’s housing market is feeling the squeeze, however, more local governments are starting to take note. On December 5, municipal leaders from 14 cities and towns in the Boston area came together to identify a regional housing goal and recommend zoning changes to help them get there. “I’ve been looking at housing for two decades, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of coordination,” said Bluestone.
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RPA-OK

Tristate regional plan proposes more equitable, resilient future with better mass transit
Picture New York, 2040: Buses replace the subway at night, but when they’re open, subways are quieter, wheelchair-accessible, and clean. Everyone’s ditched tiny apartments for cozy mother-in-law units, built into single- family suburban homes. Working in the Bronx and living in Brooklyn isn’t a two-hour slog anymore, because there is rail service from Co-op City to Sunset Park. Craving fresh air? The national park in the New Jersey Meadowlands is a one-train ride from Queens, or there’s a long-haul hike from the Catskills to the Pinelands. This is a sliver of the tristate future envisioned by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a nonpartisan, nonprofit Manhattan-based organization that periodically analyzes the region from exurbs to downtowns to generate recommendations for a thriving future. When all 782 towns and cities in the tri-state area do their own planning and zoning, true regional planning seems daunting. The almost 400-page doorstopper of a plan, the RPA’s fourth since 1922, contains recommendations on a range of issues, from closing health disparities to fairer school redistricting and property tax reform, to making it easier to reverse-commute or travel from suburb to suburb without a car. The New York-New Jersey–Connecticut area is home to 23 million people, and only a third of them live in New York City proper. With that distribution in mind, the RPA identified four top priorities that affect everyone’s life. The group believes that, for the next 25 years, a thriving region depends on fixing the MTA, constructing more affordable housing to prevent displacement, building equity in one of the most unequal regions in the area, and adapting to rising sea levels. “Our plans carry zero weight of law, but they are very influential,” RPA President Tom Wright told reporters at a November briefing. It’s not possible to analyze all of the plan’s 61 prescriptions here, but there are key takeaways for architects, planners, and policymakers who live and practice in the region. The idea that the subway needs a total overhaul is a no-brainer to anyone who has been late due to massive train delays. To improve the system, the group wants to reconsider around-the-clock subway service. Surface transit would replace trains between 12:30 a.m. and 5 a.m. on weeknights, as only 1.5 percent of daily riders use the service during these four and a half hours, almost 20 percent of the day. Ending 24/7 service, the RPA argues, would allow the beleaguered MTA to make needed repairs faster, now that there are more riders than ever. New Yorkers didn’t take kindly to the idea. Commuters took to Twitter to denounce “the worst idea ever,” and even Mayor Bill de Blasio weighed in, calling full service a “birthright.” If current trends continue, the city’s growth rate from 2015– 2040 will be half of its 1990–2015 rate, but NYC officials say the city doesn’t have enough infrastructure to support more than nine million residents, even though the RPA believes the region (including NYC) could accommodate four million more people and add two million jobs. The organization argues that more and better transit options— and more affordable housing— will prevent the region from turning into California’s Bay Area and make it easier to grow inclusively. Packed trains and sky-high rents reflect many people’s desire to live in the New York City area, but unchecked housing costs could put a damper on growth. Adding more units—two million more— would alleviate the real estate crunch over 25 years. To meet demand, the RPA estimates that changing zoning near train stations could allow 250,000 homes to be created just on surface parking near rail lines while maintaining the neighborhood balance of schools and social spaces. Reforming zoning restrictions could also encourage homeowners to create accessory dwellings units (mother-in-law apartments) within the existing building envelope, while NYC’s 12 FAR cap could be lifted to build up density. Value capture from real estate development, especially those that benefit from big-ticket projects, could fund affordable housing near transit. All housing construction will be in vain, however, if the region doesn’t step up to address the immediate and terrifying effects of climate change. The RPA wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions via a California-style cap-and-trade plan, and convene a regional commission to help local governments adapt to extreme weather and rising seas. But, according to the RPA, the carbon pricing system we have isn’t comprehensive enough; the region should switch to California’s model, which does more to reduce emissions by covering those from buildings, transportation, power production, and industry. One million people from Connecticut to New Jersey live in areas likely to flood, and municipalities are gearing up to fight Hurricane Sandy-like storm surges. There is less emphasis, though, on the everyday flooding that’s likely to result from sea-level rise in the near future; the RPA says areas that can’t be protected should be gradually transitioned to higher ground. A tristate regional coastal commission would help communities plan for sea-level rise, and a small surcharge on property insurance would be used to fund resiliency measures like buyouts and coastal hardening. The retreat from vulnerable areas is painful for people who have built lives there, but there are opportunities in the changes. A national park in the marshy, industrial Meadowlands would provide recreation space and educate visitors on climate change mitigation. Denser Meadowlands towns like Secaucus, New Jersey, would be protected from sea-level rise, while the Teterboro Airport and surrounding communities would retreat, and nature would take over. To illustrate these recommendations more richly, the RPA applies its thinking to nine sites, imagining what they could be in 2040. In that year, Jamaica, Queens, has capitalized on its rich transit connections and proximity to JFK Airport to become a destination in its own right, while retaining its income and ethnic diversity. Further east, Long Island’s central Nassau County is a “model suburb” thanks to regionally integrated schools and a new North Shore–South Shore rail link that’s made it easier to access job centers in Hempstead and Garden City. “Nothing is off the table,” Wright said.